The New York Court of Appeals announced a significant ruling in the context of toxic tort cases. The Empire State’s courts have been vexed about whether to recognize an independent cause of action for medical monitoring in the absence of physical injury, usually to a class of plaintiffs. Put another way, assuming liability on the part of a defendant, is a plaintiff’s fear of future injury sufficient to require defendant to pay for a medical monitoring program to assist in the detection of an injury that may never not come to pass?
In Caronia v. Philip Morris USA, the Court of Appeals declined to recognize a cause of action for medical monitoring based solely on the threat of future injury. Balancing public policy considerations including the burden that would be imposed on the courts, Caronia reaffirmed the requirement that a plaintiff must prove a physical injury before he or she may recover consequential damages for medical monitoring. The legislative branch was believed to be in a better position to study the issue and decide whether to expand the reach of New York’s tort law.
New York has spoken and the duty of a defendant to fund medical monitoring in the absence of a physical injury has been soundly rejected. We predict that Caronia will have a significant impact on tempering toxic tort class actions for those plaintiffs who have not manifested any present physical injuries.